Christening is defined as “a Christian sacrament signifying spiritual cleansing and rebirth.” The christening ceremony, usually done to small children and babies, and most common in Catholic and Episcopal churches, is more than simply infant baptism. The christening ceremony includes giving the baby his/her “Christian” name, sprinkling water on the head of the child, and welcoming him/her into the congregation. The ceremony can be private (family/friends only) or public (entire congregation.) Some parents prefer to make the christening a simple naming ceremony without committing the baby, or themselves, to the religion.
The concept of christening (literally “to bring to Christ”) is a religious practice that developed gradually over the first couple hundred years of the church. Scripture teaches that all since the time of Adam have a sin nature, and because of that, individuals began thinking that there needed to be a method for cleansing an infant from his original sin. There is no biblical prohibition against christening an infant as a simple naming ceremony. If the ceremony involves baptism from sin, however, it is not biblical. As christening is something that is done to infants, and since infants are not capable of understanding sin or their need to be cleansed from it, christening is not scriptural.
The fact that all are born with a sin nature in need of a Savior is found in passages such as Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” and Paul’s teaching in Romans 5:12-21 that all people are in sin through Adam and can be forgiven of sin through faith in the Second Adam, or Jesus Christ.
In contrast, biblical baptism (the term literally means “to dip or plunge”) is taught in the New Testament to be a step of obedience after a person has come to understand sin and its eternal consequences, his or her need to be saved from sin, and trusted Christ as Savior. Notably, Jesus gave a command to His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 about baptism. They were told to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” The steps were to (1) make disciples (this happens when a person trusts Jesus Christ as his Savior); (2) baptize them (this is an outward step of obedience following inward faith); and (3) teach these disciples to follow God’s commands.
The tradition of christening an infant is absent from the Scriptures, although there is no biblical prohibition against it. At best, this teaching can confuse individuals about what biblical baptism means, and at worst, it can leave people believing that, if they were christened, they are already right before God, which may lead to their neglecting the recognition of their sin and subsequent need to trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ for salvation from sin.